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'Race' and silence : the discourse of reticence

By Ph.D. John Hall


My understanding of 'race' and racism in Britain is that it is discussed\ud variously. Sometimes it steals the headlines as when Stephen Lawrence was\ud murdered (Macpherson 1999). Yet at other times there is a preference not to\ud mention the subject at all. Public discourse on 'race' and racism can be\ud reticent. Why is this? Is 'race' a difficult subject of conversation? The first\ud chapter of this thesis examines the roots of 'race'.\ud In Chapter Two the silence and silencing at a public level but also in everyday\ud interaction becomes the focus. Difficult conversations are considered. The\ud dynamic of reticence and fluency in the discourse of 'race' is explored and\ud conceptualised with reference to the limited material in the literature on the\ud silence and silencing of 'race' discourse. This raises the question as to who is\ud responsible for silence; and, whose interests, if any, might be served.\ud Chapter Three presents a real world enquiry - the Swapping Cultures Initiative\ud in Coventry and Warwickshire; involving over 1,000 children and young\ud people that took place mainly between 2002 and 2004. It reveals that a\ud significant proportion of participants (3 8.1 %) experienced bullying, racism, or\ud being picked on, based on their cultural background, and that these issues are\ud difficult matters for conversation (38%). What is revealed is both the\ud complexity of the participants' identities and the subtle and sophisticated ways\ud in which their cultural backgrounds are managed through conversation.\ud What then does silence mean when the subject is 'race'? Certainly it is\ud nuanced and complex. Chapter Four provides a series of concluding\ud reflections on 'race' and silence, identifying the major factors when seeking to\ud understand and address 'race' issues in their local context. It places centrally\ud the 'discourse of reticence' as a significant, hitherto underestimated, element\ud when considering the prevailing and pervading presence of 'race' and racism

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